Enhance Your Project Schedule

Share with othersLet’s face it, most project schedules fail. They are often unrealistic and complicated, and they do not help with execution. Gantt charts and network diagrams have been the norm for decades. The PMI Pulse of the Profession reports that only half of all projects are completed on schedule, despite the powerful tools.
These outcomes are influenced by multiple factors. These assumptions are not realistic. It is difficult to create a “good” schedule for a project. Many of these assumptions are not sound. These tools are complex and require more effort than most people are willing or able to invest.
To improve, we must understand the limitations of the tools, set clear expectations and plan at the right level of detail.
Learn the Tools
The critical path method and network diagramming are the foundations of most scheduling tools. Network diagrams show the sequential execution project tasks. The critical path is the sequence of activities that has the longest duration. Project schedule changes will be affected if the task duration or timing is changed.
These tools were created in the 1950s to help manage the U.S. Navy’s Polaris submarine program. These tools were created to be strong industrial tools for large and complex projects.
Traditional project scheduling follows a linear, logical set of operations.
Define the scope of the project. Document all required deliverables.
Divide the scope into work packs. Work packages are small deliverables which can be assigned and are easily estimated.
Identify the tasks or activities required to create each work pack.
You should sequence the activities in a logical manner, documenting interdependencies and timing.
Calculate the time required to complete each task.
Assemble tasks in a project schedule, taking into account dependencies, resource availability, as well as other constraints.
This process is based on critical assumptions:
The scope of the project is well-defined.
As this will impact the plan, any changes to the scope will be limited.
Each activity is identified and sequenced correctly with a predecessor task and a successor task.
It is possible to accurately estimate the resource requirements and effort required for each task. Even if we can predict the ideal time, adding delays, interruptions and competing priorities to the equation adds uncertainty and complexity to the process.
Reality will eventually look like the plan. This is a critical assumption that is unrealistic and dangerous.
These assumptions should be met when constructing projects. They should have detailed plans and specifications. There are always design changes and unexpected events. Seattle’s huge project to bury State Route 99 was delayed for two years after Bertha, the tunneling machine, struck an 8-inch steel pipe. Software projects and knowledge work are challenging traditional practices.
Set Expectations
Traditional tools can be used to build a solid planning foundation. Incorporating other accepted practices will improve the outcome. These plans will be more realistic and helpful, which will lead to happier customers and project teams.
It is important to set expectations. The project roadmap is created by the plans. The project duration, known and unknown risks, and the amount of planning effort all affect the level of detail and accuracy.
Napoleon Hill, a Depression-era self-help guru and author, is credited for inventing the phrase “Plan the work, work the plan.” However, this may not translate well to project management. I knew an executive who loved the phrase and was, to everyone’s surprise, a poor project leader.
General Eisenhower said, “Plans can be useless, but planning is essential.” Planning forces us to understand the context of the project. Moltke, a great Prussian military strategist, noted that “No plan survives contact avec the enemy.” This is also true for projects.
The master scheduler of a data warehouse